Why A Do-It-Yourself Divorce Is A Bad Idea

Divorces are expensive.  Lawyers are unecessary.  All the information is online. . . .These are just a few of the justifications that couples use when deciding that they too can finalize their own divorce.  There are even online companies that ostensibly assist with a divorce for a small fee and no lawyers involved.  Sounds too good to be true?  It is.

If divorces were so simple, there would be no need for divorce lawyers or even family court judges.  The bottom line, however, is like any legal matter, from a criminal trial, to a slip and fall case, to a multimillion dollar commercial suit, a divorce needs the attention of an attorney.  Surprisingly, to many, a divorce does not need to cost a lot of money especially if the parties are in agreement as to the issues surrounding the divorce, such as division of property, support/alimony, custody of minor children and child support.  However, it is difficult to reach such agreement without the proper legal guidance.

The following are a few more reasons not to try a DIY divorce:

1) Division Of Property Is Final And Cannot Be Changed – Once parties agree on the division of their assets in a divorce, and a final settlement agreement is signed or an Order is issued by the Court , it often cannot be changed or revoked.  Thus, it is crucial that before agreeing to a division, parties know what constitutes marital and non-marital assets, the value of these items, and how they are typically divided in the jurisdiction in which they live in accordance with the facts of their case.  Lawyers spend years learning the ins and outs of the relevant laws.  It is prudent to be guided by a professional with this expertise.  Such advice can save a lot of future regret.

2) Each Jurisdiction Has A Different Set of Rules And Procedures – Frequently,  pro se litigants mistakenly believe that if they represent themselves in a divorce, the Courts will take pity on them or guide them through the process.  This could not be  further from the truth.  Judges expect those who choose to represent themselves to follow the same procedures and processes as attorneys who regularly appear before the Court.  And what makes this even more complicated, is that in some jurisdictions Court rules are not uniform across the state but can vary from county to county.  Thus, those who choose a do-it-yourself divorce can expect to spend many hours in the local law library brushing up on Court rules and procedures.

3) A DIY Divorce Will Not Save Money But Will Result In Lost Money – Cost is one of the primary reasons why parties choose a DIY divorce.  However, failing to have professional guidance can actually cost more in the end.  Parties are not educated on the law, and without a counselor and advocate to assist them, they are bound to neglect crucial issues.  Moreover, if one spouse is represented by counsel and one is not, the person without an attorney is at a severe disadvantage in the case.  Some parties believe that other professionals such as financial planners can substitute for an attorney in a divorce case.  This is a serious misconception because financial planners are trained in how to invest and manage money, not how to structure a divorce settlement to shutterstock_132744659maximize their client’s interests.  Similarly, a mediator who assists parties in reaching a resolution in a divorce does not substitute for an attorney who will review a proposed settlement with only his or her client’s best interests in mind.

Divorces are not meant to be DIY.  Those who choose this route take a serious risk.  At a minimum, before undertaking a divorce one should meet with an attorney and be advised of the law and all of its permutations.  Only then can a truly informed decision be made on how to best proceed.

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About Family Law Focus
The Family Law Focus blog provides highlights, updates and insights on complex family disputes including divorce, division of property, and alimony; child and spousal support; child custody; domestic violence; pre- and post-nuptial agreements; name changes; and adoption or termination of parental rights.
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The Editor

Attorney Jennifer A. Brandt, chair of Cozen O'Connor's Family Law practice, has represented a wide variety of clients in hundreds of family law cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Jennifer is a regular legal commentator on national and local television outlets such as CNN, Fox New Network, HLN, MSNBC, Fox29, ABC News, NBC and CBS and frequently writes and contributes to articles in numerous publications, including the Huffington Post, Fox Business.com, The PhiIly Post, Avvo.com, Allparenting.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Business Journal, the National Law Journal, and Main Line Today magazine.
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